The Nation's Health + [Heart scans]

Heart scans: "How often do you call an ambulance?"

I asked one of the CT technologists at Milwaukee Heart Scan what quesetions are often asked by people undergoing their first CT heart scan.

"That's easy," she said. " 'How often do you call an ambulance?' "

She went on. "People are very scared when they have their heart scan. In fact, some people don't even want to see their heart scan images and don't want to know their score--even after they paid $200 for the scan!"

I think she's right. People often remember the headlines that some heart scan centers have used: "Heart scan saved so and so's life!," when a high score led to a heart catheterization, stents, or bypass surgery. It's the sort of headline that gives people the impression that ambulances pull up to the scan center whenever a score is high.

So, how often is an ambulance called to the scan center? Never. Not once. A CT heart scan score is NEVER an emergency.

Emergencies occur in other places when people can't breathe, or are having pain in their chest, or pass out, emergencies that should not take anyone to a heart scan center. When heart scans are used properly, it is the person without symptoms who undergoes a scan to look for hidden heart disease. This cannot lead to an emergency.

Of course, that doesn't mean that a high score shouldn't prompt quick action in the next few days or weeks, like seeing your doctor to discuss the results, undergoing a stress test, discussing how to stop the score from progressing.

But call an ambulance? Forget about it.

If you are contemplating a scan but are scared that it could lead to a 911 call, don't let that stop you. But, in the event that you go to an unscrupulous center or get bad information, be sure to be armed with the best information possible. One good start would be to take look at our free downloadable book, What does my heart scan show? available for free on the www.healthcare.gov website.